Harry stared at the photograph, a small frown creasing between his eyebrows. When he took it, the angle had been perfect; he’d truly thought this was the one – the picture that was going to really make his portfolio. But somewhere along the way – the lighting, perhaps, or the editing – the image had lost its soul. It didn’t spark that ball of warmth in Harry anymore. He didn’t feel like he was staring at something beautiful.
Irritated, Harry gave a soft groan and pushed the thick photo paper away, slumping his head on the table.
“Styles, mate,” someone cooed from across the room, seeing his distress. “What’s up, man?”
Harry looked up to see Zayn Malik approaching him, scratching his bearded jaw absent-mindedly. If there was anyone on this entire planet that was born to sit before a camera lens, it was Zayn Malik. He was so beautiful, it hurt. Often, Harry would sit and fantasize that Zayn was his assignment model and not Liam Payne’s, and he’d feel that ball of warmth swell in his chest, making his eyes sting and his lips press together into a thin line.
Harry admired him now – just to take his mind off his failure of a photograph. The boy lounged against the desk in front of Harry’s, dark hair artfully combed into a tousled mess. His olive skin and whisky-colored eyes only complemented the sharp lines of his face – high cheekbones, angular jaw, straight nose. He looked as though he’d stepped from the page of Japanese Manga – though he was actually of Middle-Eastern descent – and Harry was getting that eyes-are-stinging-he’s-so-beautiful feeling again; he looked away quickly, mumbling a vague response.
“It’s not working,” he said quietly. Despite his shameless admiring, Zayn Malik actually intimidated Harry – who was shy and quiet, though by no means unsociable. “I thought the picture would be great but it fell flat.” He waved towards the incriminating photo, shrugging his shoulders as if to say ‘it’s no big deal’ when actually, Harry was crying inside.
Zayn picked up the picture and examined it, lips pursed. Pointing to the main feature of the image – a dotted mug – Zayn pulled a face. “You still haven’t found a model?”
Harry grimaced. “Don’t remind me, please.”
Zayn gave an apologetic smile as Liam called him from across the room. “You know I’d help, man, if it was in the rules. I like you – you’re a nice lad.”
“Thanks?” Harry couldn’t help the uplifted tone – as if he was questioning Zayn’s words. Harry was quite wary of compliments; it was difficult to tell if a person ever really meant them. “It’ll be a miracle if I graduate at this rate.”
Zayn murmured something unintelligible sympathetically before giving a sad little wave and jogging away. Harry’s gaze followed him, watching as Zayn bumped fists with Liam and the two of them poured over Liam’s fresh spread of pictures. Harry respected Liam; he had a good eye for what was beautiful – as he’d shown by scouting Zayn from the art department. Zayn was actually a brilliant artist – really, paired up with Liam, the two of them were unstoppable.
Sighing his envy, Harry carefully placed the cap back on the lens of his camera and packed it away. Gathering his pitiful portfolio pieces, he stood, stumbling clumsily for a moment before righting himself.
“You off, Harry, dear?” The photography supervisor asked as he headed towards the door. He’d consider her a teacher, but she didn’t really teach. Which was a good thing, of course. You couldn’t teach art. It was a natural gift.
“Yeah,” Harry sighed. “It’s not my day today. I need to go elsewhere for inspiration.”
“Alright, just make sure you put in the extra time to catch up on what you miss.”
He waved her off, shrugging his camera bag over his shoulder, careful not to jostle it too hard. Fingering his Polaroid in his pocket out of nothing but pure comfort, Harry nodded and left.
The air was crispy and cool as he strode across the university campus. Heading over to the small, quaint coffee shop – Cara’s Coffee - in the corner of the courtyard, Harry pulled his phone out and opened his emails. Surprised because he’d received more than five since he’d checked them this morning, Harry closed his phone, figuring he’d read them when he was sat with his coffee.
He loved this coffee shop; there was something so pretty about it. It was charming and indie and very old-fashioned – most students opted for the modern Starbucks two minutes down the road from here – but Harry almost felt a little sorry for Cara’s Coffee shop. He felt like it was the runt of a litter of puppies, or something. It was like a personal obligation of his to keep it thriving. He never liked Starbucks anyway; it was too crowded and they always put too much creamer in his coffee.
The queue was non-existent so Harry’s order was taken immediately. The barista’s face lit up when she saw him and she put her book down with a gleeful squeal.
“Harry!” She grinned. “It’s been too long since you’ve come back here! Where’ve you been?”
“Sorry,” Harry murmured sheepishly, and he actually felt the apology deep in his gut. “I’ve been so caught up on my photography assignments – I’ve struggled to find a model for weeks now and the final showcase is in a fortnight and I have nothing ready.”
She gave a small pout. “I could always model, babe.” Blowing him a kiss, she set to work preparing his usual. Harry liked this barista – Megan. She always gave him a size up from what he ordered for no extra charge.
“No offence, but you’re not the kind of model I’m looking for.” He felt awful saying it, but he had said it before. She was too...artificial. She plastered her face in makeup and at least eighty percent of her hair was false. Which was fine, of course. Harry didn’t judge what she looked like because she was happy, but she wasn’t what he was looking for. Apparently unruffled by his comment, she just shrugged.
“Offer still stands.” She winked, eyeing him flirtatiously. “Check you out with your fedora, Styles! Channelling the indie hipster, right?”
Harry’s fingers brushed the rim of his hat self-consciously. “I like it – I think it’s different.”
“Different from your bandana.” She nodded, sliding his drink over to him. He tipped her – he always did – and she beamed at him, tucking the notes into her bra. He took his drink over to the corner of the café, despite the fact that the place was almost empty except from an elderly woman reading the newspaper. Megan went back to reading her book, flicking through the pages with a casual air. Harry suspected she wasn’t actually reading the book, but rather, using it to hide how much she was goggling him. He didn’t mind; she wasn’t doing any harm.
Harry pulled his phone charger from his satchel and plugged it into the wall socket, waiting for the battery to light before he reopened his emails. Three were from photography jobs he’d lined up for himself alongside his coursework; one, a family photoshoot, the second was a boudoir shoot he’d agreed – albeit reluctantly – to do for his cousin’s best friend, and the third, a local magazine model shoot. Easy tasks, really. Boring.
The fourth email was the monthly photography catalogue he’d subscribed to – some of the pieces of work that featured in it each month took his breath away. He looked forward to sinking his teeth into that later. The fifth email was slightly different. Forwarded from his sister – she’d thought of him when she’d seen the email in her junk folder – Harry’s thumb hovered uncertainly over the message.
Calling artists – YouTubers want your work!
Opening the message, Harry took a sip of his coffee – sweetened with sugar – and began to read.
To celebrate Arts’ Week in London next week, YouTubers are looking to collaborate with 5 of you to get your artwork broadcasted on a massive scale! In this competition, you will get the chance to pair with a famous* YouTuber and work together to create a mini-portfolio of your work. Who knows, with your YouTuber’s help, you could have your work scouted by major agents and studios!
Upon winning, you’ll be staying in a top-of-the-range hotel for seven nights with your fellow YouTuber partner, win a pair of tickets to countless† Arts’ Week events and have your shot at fame. To have a chance of winning this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, fill in your details down below and submit three samples of your previous artwork to be considered.
* Famous constitutes YouTube significant figures/’vloggers’ with one million subscribers or more.
† You will win 2 x tickets for 3 x randomly-selected Arts’ Week events. These will be red-carpet tickets and will be credited to you and your partner only. Any illegal transfer, selling or donation of these tickets will render them void.
Louis Tomlinson – LtommoBoi – 6.8 million subscribers
Eleanor Calder – Elealder – 4.7 million subscribers
Rhydian Hiat – HiatYoAss – 4.2 million subscribers
Florence Justice – FloJust – 3.9 million subscribers
Samuel Oakwood – SamOak – 2.8 million subscribers
Tagged on the end of the email, Gemma had written: Seems like you could use the added publicity – why not? You’ve got nothing to lose. :P
Closing down the email, Harry rolled his eyes. He didn’t even watch YouTubers! He’d never even heard of any of them – well, Rhydian Hiat’s name rang familiar bells in his head; perhaps he’d heard the name in conversation before. Nonetheless, he wasn’t going to enter a competition he knew absolutely nothing about. Drinking the last dredges of his coffee, Harry traced the weird doodle on the carbon cup. It was some sort of Mexican sombrero, though he suspected it was supposed to be an imitation of his fedora. Megan always traced some sort of design on his coffee and if it particularly interested Harry, he uploaded it to his Instagram. Harry snapped a pic, uploading it to his profile with the words –Fedora’s Companion – because, really, this coffee wouldn’t taste the same if it wasn’t for the fedora Harry was wearing on his head. He was gathering quite a following on his Instagram profile, now. He had over three thousand. He was pretty proud of that fact – proud and humbled.
Clicking off the app, he threw his cup away and gathered his camera kit before waving goodbye to Megan and leaving. He texted Gemma: I’d never win that comp – not bothering with it to which she replied: Thought you’d say that – that’s why I already entered you.
“Hello!” Louis grinned, giving his trademark awkward wave to the camera. “Name’s Louis Tomlinson and I will be your entertainer for the rest of the-” He checked his watch. “Okay, no, I won’t. But it is nine o’clock and I did promise you guys a livestream Q&A this evening…” He trailed off when he saw the comments flood into his twitter. “You guys are already condemning me for my time error – I LIVE IN LONDON AND IT’S NINE O’CLOCK HERE, OKAY?” Chuckling to himself, he decided to click on a few follow buttons, no doubt making someone’s day. It was a wonder his laptop hadn’t frozen with his mentions – they just kept streaming through, no end in sight, and when Louis checked his livestream, he could see why. He had almost eight hundred thousand viewers already. He couldn’t fathom how many people that was. It blew his mind.
“So, guys,” His own name caught his eye and his grin widened. “Holy shit, we’re trending worldwide already. It’s been what, ninety seconds? You guys are awesome. For those new viewers: trend on the hashtag TommoLivestreamQA and I’ll be on that tag answering some of your questions in a mo.” He took a sip of his steaming tea, wincing at the heat. “Hot – burnt my lip. Shit.”
Louis didn’t worry that his viewers called him out on his swearing – it’s a common occurrence in his videos and they knew that if Louis wasn’t swearing, then he was probably reading from a script or autocue. They liked the honesty that came with his cussing.
“So,” Louis put his mug down, picking up his phone. “I was scrolling through Tumblr the other day – I’m not telling you my secret account, oh no. Anyways, I was scrolling and I came across this fanfiction. I know you guys write fanfiction a lot and I never read it because I’d probably never retain any sanity – you’re my fans, after all.” Laughing softly to himself because he couldn’t believe he could say that, even 6.8 million subscribers in, Louis shook his head. “Anyway, point is – it was a Souis fic – your nickname for ‘shipping’” he air quoted, “Sam Oakwood and I.”
He paused to catch his breath. “The artwork for this fic was pretty fine. But then that boy is pretty fine; I mean, have you seen his body? He’s, like, crafted by the Gods.” Louis placed his hands together as a prayer and tilted his head up, hoping that the low-quality of the webcam hid his blush. “I didn’t read the fic because I spent too much time admiring his face. He’s such a beautiful boy and his videos are actually cool, too - he deserves so many more subscribers. Ya’ll should subscribe to him. I can’t wait for the day I finally get to meet him.” He crossed his fingers. “It’ll be soon hopefully – he retweeted my tweet the other day about Arts’ Week, did you guys see? Oh wait, of course you did.”
He put a finger up. “Talking of said retweeted Tweet: I’m so proud to be taking part in Arts’ Week this year – I feel like it’s going to be epic, combining art with the internet. Aren’t they both just the best things ever?” Pulling his sleeve over his hand, he rested his head in his sheathed palm, biting his lip as he read through the comments streaming alongside the webcam video. Most of the comments were what Louis expected: super-fans shipping Sam with Louis, typing explicit remarks, some were completely crazed over the fact that Louis mentioned fanfiction, others were more bothered about his secret Tumblr account.
@Souisfan: OMFG Louis called Sam beautiful! MY LIFE IS COMPLETE ASDFGHJKL OTP OTP
@LouGal: wtf Louis has a secret tumblr omfg so embarrassing I’ve reposted so much shit what if he’s seen it omfg
@pixiedot: It’s so good to see that @Louis_Tomlinson hasn’t changed at all. He’s still the most humble, funny guy he’s been since day one four years ago. Now, here he is 6.8 m subscribers down the line aw so proud
Louis smiled, brushing his fringe over his forehead. “Thanks, @pixiedot – you’re too cute.”
The comments box exploded. OMFG HE’S READING OUR COMMENTS. FREAKING OUT. OMFG FOLLOW ME LOUIS PLEASE PLEASE I LOVE YOU
“’Kay,” Louis said, dragging his eyes from the comments. “I’m going to answer some of your questions now because ya’ll are making me blush from your nice comments.”
He clicked on the worldwide trend and scrolled down; it’s hindered slightly by the fact that new tweets were constantly coming through but he looked for interesting questions anyway; he was bored of the normal ones.
“Are you going out with Eleanor?” Louis read and he swallowed. There was this massive scandal with him and Eleanor after a leaked video of him and her taking shots and then drunkenly kissing aired online. He hadn’t meant for it to happen – it was almost an experiment: to see if there was any part of him that wasn’t gay. Because if he wasn’t straight for Eleanor, he wouldn’t be straight for anyone. Alas, he’d been proven gay through and through – he’d been almost disappointed by Eleanor’s kissing. She’d laughed at him when he’d admitted as much, ruffled his hair and then pulled him in for a friendly hug. Eleanor was lovely, really, but not a girl he’d ever fall in love with.
“Eleanor and I are just friends,” he said solemnly. “Like, we did that collab a few months back – that was so much fun – I’ll tweet the link for those of you that haven’t seen it. I’d do another video with her again any day; she’s great. But like, no, I’m not seeing her. I’m still gay.” Bashful, Louis distracted himself by taking a slow, calculated sip of his coffee.
“Guys, I just revealed my complete crush on Sam Oakwood and you’re still asking me about Eleanor?” He shook his head, bemused. “Oh, God, what if he’s watching this? I promise I’m not as creepy as I sound, Sam!”
Overcome with the sudden hilarity of the situation, Louis dissolved into a fit of giggles, hiding his smirk behind his hand. When he finally sobered – and about five hundred fresh comments about his ‘dorky, cute laugh’ appeared on Twitter – he looked for a new question.
“Did you get another tattoo? Someone saw you at the tattoo parlour in London last week.” Surprised, as he usually was, that people recognized him in real life, he said, “Yeah, I got new ink on my wrist – a skull.” He pulled his sleeve up and pressed his arm to the camera. “See? I don’t know, it seems pretty cool. I like inking myself; gives me something to look at, right? Skin’s quite boring.”
“Where are you next week? You’re always travelling!” Louis pulled a sheepish face. “I can’t help travelling – meeting new people is fun and there’s always somewhere new to go! Next week, I’m actually moving out of my flat to stay in a hotel for a week. Arts’ Week, remember? So I’m sharing a twin room with whoever my art collab partner is. Looking forward to it. Should be fun. Providing they aren’t…horrible or anything.” He shrugged. “I actually am really excited for next week; I’m going to so many red-carpet events, meeting talented, new people, seeing great work! My next video will be uploaded Wednesday – as usual – but by then I should know who my collab partner is so we can do, like, a little intro video? If you’re game for that, show the love in the comments or whatever.” He gestured to the comment box rather exuberantly. “And I’M SO CLOSE TO 7 MILLION SUBSCRIBERS WHAT AM I GOING TO DO. Yeah, I need some celebratory ideas so tweet me, comment me, message me, whatever you can – Whoever’s idea I use will be my Awesome Soul of the Week.”
His phone vibrated – an incoming text from his agent. Without seeming like he was checking his phone in the middle of a livestream, Louis read the screen. Aspire Gen. Arts’ Week Comp calling in five. Knowing he was going to have to answer that call, he cleared his throat. “Alright, guys, I’m super sorry I couldn’t answer many questions but I’ll do a follow spree later on! As it is, my next video is up next Wednesday – don’t forget to subscribe to LtommoBoi on YouTube and follow me on Twitter @Louis_Tomlinson if you haven’t already. Follow spree later and I LOVE YOU GUYS. This is the Tommo,” he saluted, giving his trademark farewell he’d owned since he first began making videos, four years ago – the ripe age of nineteen. “I’m out.”
Louis shut off his laptop - double-checking to ensure he wasn’t still live – to answer his phone. “Louis Tomlinson,” he answered crisply.
“Hi, this is the conductor of the Arts’ Week YouTuber Collab Competition, Courtesy of the Aspire Generations Charity.”
Balancing his phone between his shoulder and ear, Louis got up and emptied his cup of tea into the sink, jumping backwards when the liquid splashed back onto his white shirt. “Hi, yeah, I’m involved in that.” He grabbed a cloth to wipe the coffee stain but it only spread further. Grimacing, Louis slumped against the kitchen counter. He liked this shirt.
“I’d just like to inform you that your collab partner has been drawn.”
Excitement and dread twisted inside him simultaneously, and he could barely keep the grin from his face. “Right?” He responded, trying desperately to keep his voice neutral.
“His name is Harry Styles; predominantly a photographer but it looks like he’s done some design sketchwork, too. London University student – unsigned, unrepresented. The kid’s raw talent. We paired him with you because he’s quite shy – introverted, even - and you’re…well, not.”
Louis took that as a compliment. “Social media platforms?”
“No YouTube channel – in fact, video activity is non-existent all together, but he does have Instagram and Twitter.”
“Great, his usernames?” Louis pulled a pad of paper towards him and plucked a pen from this absurdly cute clay pot he made with this other YouTuber who went off the radar like ten months ago. Louis made a mental note to drop them a text or a message just to check they were okay.
While the coordinator reeled the usernames off, Louis tried to paint a picture of the kid. Shy, a photographer – Louis was going to hazard a guess that Harry was younger than him. Talented. Louis hoped he wasn’t cocky with his talent. If there was anything Louis couldn’t stand, it was cocky people. It was so degrading to others, and it just made someone…bitter.
He practically ran to his laptop, listening to the coordinator outline the schedule for next week. Louis wasn’t worried about missing it – his agent would tell him what to expect each day. He pulled up the screen, crossed down the livestream, now offline, and searched the kid up.
His first thought was disappointment. There were no photos in his Twitter page of himself, apart from his display pic. This would have been more than enough for Louis to gleam just an image of the boy, but he couldn’t even see Harry’s face. Hidden in contrasting shadow, the emphasis of the picture just seemed to be on the view behind him. Louis could see Harry was holding up a peace sign, though, and the thought was oddly endearing, despite the fact that Louis had no idea who the boy was.
“Some photographer,” Louis grumbled, forgetting that the coordinator was still on the phone. “His display picture completely drowns him out.”
“He’s not a selfie kind of guy,” the coordinator responds wryly. “Shy, remember?”
“Right.” Louis opened Instagram and looked him up. “Oh, wow.” His jaw dropped. “You weren’t kidding about the talent. These pictures are beautiful.”
“Yeah, he’s great – we’re hoping if this all works out we can offer him an internship at GQ; we’ve got links to launch him and that’s what our Charity does, after all – but that’s a long way to go yet, and obviously not something to blab about.”
“I understand all about secrets,” Louis mumbled quietly. “Can I follow him or?”
“No,” the coordinator protests quickly. “The artists aren’t told they’ve even won the competition until Sunday-”
“The day before Arts’ Week starts?”
“Okay,” Louis tried not to grin giddily. It meant he knew something other people didn’t. That feeling was always awesome. It also meant he could spend the next six days stalking Harry Styles – maybe he’ll finally get an idea of what the boy looks like. “That’s kind of inconvenient since I promised fans I’d reveal his name in my next video.”
“You’re going to have to work that one out for yourself. The news doesn’t come out until Sunday evening, Tomlinson. Understand?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Louis waved her off, though she definitely couldn’t see him. “I’ll get around it, don’t worry. I’ve delayed news before.”
“Good.” There’s a moment’s silence. “If you have any more questions-”
Distracted by the boy’s Instagram page, Louis says, “I don’t.”
“Then we’ll see you at the Aspire Generation meeting Monday morning.”
Louis hung up, letting his phone drop absently from his hand into his lap. Pulling the laptop up to his lap, he scanned through Harry Styles’ Instagram page, completely mesmerized by the colours and the pictures and the prettiness of it all. If there was anything Harry Styles knew, it was how to capture beauty, that Louis could see.
It was true that Louis had been looking forward to Arts’ Week, but now that he knew the name of his partner, knew it was all going ahead – it just made him that much more excited. He could barely contain his joy. He sent a quick text to Lottie.
Hey, sis, big secret – don’t tell. I know my collab partner for next week. SO EXCITED I CAN’T BREATHE – Lou :D
That’s great! Who is it? I won’t tell :L – Lottie
His name is Harry Styles. Don’t follow him on twitter or anything; you’ll give it away. Big secret, sis. Don’t spill. – Lou
Give me some credit ;) His Instagram is very hipster – you like indie guys, Lou. Don’t get any ideas *wink wink, nudge nudge* - Lottie
Louis flushed. I’ve never even seen the guy. I hate you. – Lou
Love you too -Lottie
Grinning like a complete fool, Louis pressed his hand against his smile to stifle his giggle. He was so excited – this week was going to go way too slowly. He wouldn’t get to meet Harry until Monday morning. What was he supposed to do all week?
Surely, the excitement would kill him. Louis genuinely felt like he might die.